Old Growth Honduras Mahogany

Mahogany has always been regarded as the “wood of royalty” due to its rich, deep color, figuring, and luxurious feel.  Since the early 1700’s Mahogany has been harvested and shipped all over the world to build heirloom furniture for just about any occasion. One of the most treasured and demanded species of Mahogany is Honduran Mahogany. This wood is especially prized when it can be cut from “old growth” trees, displaying highly figured and beautiful grain patterns and colors. An old growth tree is a tree that has been growing in an undisturbed forrest and has reached great age. Nature does amazing things to the inside of an old growth tree, which made them the target of the logging industry for centuries. This caused over harvesting, so much so that old grown trees are heavily protected today. 

 Mahogany logs awaiting the rainy season.

Mahogany logs awaiting the rainy season.

From as early as the 1700s to the 1940s Honduran Mahogany was the target tree of the loggers in Belize. The old growth trees were harvested during the dry seasons, hauled to the banks of the closest river, that fed to the ocean, and tossed in to await the rainy season. Due to the sheer size of the trees, floating them down the river was the most efficient way to transport them to the ocean. Honduran Mahogany was harvested in mass quantities, resulting in rivers that were filled to the max with trees waiting for the water level to rise enough to float them out to sea. As a result of the overloaded rivers, it’s estimated that only half of the harvested trees made it to the ships.  The other half would be lost to the bottom of the rivers, sunken somewhere along the way. This was of no concern to the loggers, as they were concerned with quantity and didn’t have the means or time to recover the sunken logs. So from the 1700’s to the 1940’s this same process of logging Honduras Mahogany continued.

In the early 2000’s these sunken mahogany trees were finally discovered, presenting unbelievable possibilities. Since the rediscovery of these old growth treasures, slowly but surely these trees are being salvaged from the rivers they’ve lied in for hundreds of years, and cut into lumber. This presents an amazing opportunity to woodworkers. The quantity still yet to be recovered in the rivers of Belize is massive, as no one is certain how much lies at the bottom of these rivers. The lumber coming from these sunken trees is no longer in regular circulation and is extremely rare. One cannot simply cut down trees today that this lumber is coming from.

 River salvaging the sunken logs. (Photo courtesy of Greener Lumber LLC)

River salvaging the sunken logs. (Photo courtesy of Greener Lumber LLC)

I was fortunate enough to come in to some of this material. The sheer fact that I am working with wood that is hundreds of years old is surreal. Today’s trees, which are plantation grown for only 20-40 years, cannot compare to the unique figuring and deep rich color that this old growth lumber exudes.  I feel a great responsibility to honor this wood’s heritage and story by making it in to pieces of furniture that will last long past my time.  To know that this wood was centuries old when harvested, sunk and lay dormant in a river, waiting to be salvaged again hundreds of years later isn’t something I take lightly.  

Each log that is salvaged from a river is given a number to catalog and try and date these treasures.  Included in each piece I make will be the log number the piece was salvaged from as well as the date in which my piece was completed, and the product number in my catalog.  

Each piece I make from these sunken treasures will be unique to the trees they came from, and will have a heritage that many other pieces will not have.  They carry on a history, lost to time,  and it is my duty to steward that piece into a piece of furniture that will live on.   

Posted on February 17, 2016 .